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FINAL: Fresno State 40, San Jose State 9
Fresno State did what it had to do, beating San Jose State 40-9 on Thanksgiving Day. Now, its chances at winning the West Division title in the Mountain West Conference are up to Boise State.
Imagine that, Bulldogs rooting for Broncos.
The Bulldogs got to 9-3 and 6-2 in conference play with the victory, trailing only 10-1 and 6-1 San Diego State in the West. If Boise State can knock off the Aztecs in a game that starts at 9 a.m. on Friday, Fresno State will win the division due to a head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over the Aztecs with its 30-20 victory last month.
The Bulldogs will go into their next game, whether for the conference championship or in a bowl, on a bit of a roll.
Fresno State thoroughly dominated San Jose State, the defending conference champions, to bring the Valley Trophy back to Fresno. Quarterback Jake Haener hit 27 of 36 oasses for 343 yards and touchdowns to tight end Juan Rodriguez, running back Jordan Mims, wideout Jalen Cropper and running back Ronnie Rivers, and the Bulldogs rolled up 486 yards of offense.
A defense playing without two key pieces in linebacker Tyson Maeva and defensive tackle Leonard Payne, both out with injuries, also held the Spartans to just three field goals.
‘Dogs piling on
Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener has his fourth touchdown pass and the Bulldogs now have a 40-9 lead on San Jose State, scoring on a 13-yard pass to running back Ronnie Rivers with 11:29 to go.
Haener is now 27 of 35 for 343 yards with the four touchdowns and no interceptions. His touchdown passes have gone to tight end Juan Rodriguez, wideout Jalen Cropper, running back Jordan Mims and Rivers.
The Bulldogs have 10 players with at least one reception led by Cropper with seven.
Haener has now passed for 300 or more yards for the eighth time this season.
Spartans’ run game
San Jose State has rushed for just 54 yards on 22 plays, averaging 2.2 yards per play. Tyler Nevens, the Spartans’ leading rusher has 11 carries for 39 yards, 3.5 yards per play.
What’s notable about that is Nevens is leading Mountain West running backs with 591 yards after contact, an average of 3.8 yards per play.
Haener has third TD, ‘Dogs up 33-9
Fresno State has gone up 33-9 with 5:14 remaining in the third quarter, scoring on a fake reverse screen pass that ended up going from quarterback Jake Haener to Jalen Cropper.
The Bulldogs’ wideout, behind a wall of blockers, went 29 yards for the score.
Haener is now 21 of 26 for 258 yards and three touchdowns, hitting Jordan Mims, Juan Rodriguez and Cropper for scores.
Silva extends Bulldogs’ lead
Fresno State has extended its lead to 26-9, scoring on a 43-yard field goal by Cesar Silva with 10:13 to go in the third quarter. The Bulldogs scored on their opening drives in the first, and second halves.
The drive was 37 yards in nine plays.
The Bulldogs got the run game going a little on that series with Ronnie Rivers rushing it three times for 23 yards.
Atkins and TFLs
With 1.5 tackles for loss, defensive tackle Kevin Atkins now has 12.5 this season. That is the most by a Fresno State interior defensive lineman since Logan Harrell had 14.0 in 2010.
Fresno State has two chunk pass plays of 20 or more yards, both to running backs, Quarterback Jake Haener hit Ronnie Rivers for 33 yards and Jordan Mims for 45 yards and a touchdown.
The Bulldogs’ longest pass play to a wideout is 14 yards, to Erik Brooks. Josh Kelly and Jalen Cropper have receptions of 13 yards. San Jose State came into the game ranked seventh in the Mountain West in passing defense and had allowed four pass plays of 50 or more yards, tied for second most in the conference.
Cropper has the most targets with five, and has caught three passes for 20 yards. He also lost a fumble.
Bulldogs at halftime
Fresno State has 213 yards at halftime with 169 through the air. San Jose State has 179 yards of offense.
Quarterback Jake Haener is 13 of 17 with two touchdowns, hitting tight end Juan Rodriguez and running back Jordan Mims. The Bulldogs have rushed the football 12 times for 44 yards, just 37 yards per play.
They have run onlyt 29 plays to 43 for the Spartans.
The Bulldogs’ defense has allowed San Jose State to convert a 3rd-and-10 and two 3rd-and-8 plays, but held the Spartans to just the three field goals by Matt Mercurio.
Safety Evan Williams is leading the Bulldogs with six tackles, four solo. The Bulldogs have five tackles for loss with 2.0 from defensive end Arron Mosby and 1.5 from tackle Kevin Atkins and end David Perales.
Mosby and Perales also have forced fumbles and they defensive front has been able to apply pressure to San Jose State quarterbacks Nick Starkel and Nick Nash.
The Spartans have hit only 9 of 21 passes, though they have plays of 40 and 27 yards and have 137 yards.
Spartans add late field goal
San Jose State had a drive working into halftime, but had to settle for a 36-yard field goal by Matt Mercurio, his third of the game. The Bulldogs with 25 seconds remaining in the half lead 23-9.
The Spartans drive was 51 yards in seven plays.
Fresno State had an interception return for a TD by safety Evan Williams wiped out by a holding call on the drive.
‘Dogs cash in another turnover
Fresno State has scored off a turnover with Jake Haener hitting running back Jordan Mims with a 45-yard touchdown pass. The score comes following a fumble forced by defensive Arron Mosby and recovered by linebacker Levelle Bailey at the Bulldogs’ 42-yard line.
The touchdown reception was the third this season for Mims, who also had scoring receptions against Nevada and New Mexico.
Haener is now 13 of 17 for 169 yards with two touchdowns.
Bulldogs put a drive together, go up 16-6
Fresno State has scored on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Jake Haener to tight end Juan Rodriguez to push its lead to 16-6 with 4:54 to go before halftime.
The Bulldogs drive was 78 yards in nine plays.
Haener is now 11 of 15 for 111 yards with the touchdown. He has hit eight different receivers with a pass and targeted nine, with Josh Kelly, Jalen Cropper and Rodriguez all with two receptions.
Spartans close to 9-6
San Jose State took the turnover and cut into the Bulldogs’ lead with a 26-yard field goal by Matt Mercurio, the score now looking like a bad baseball game. It’s 9-6 with 8:36 to go before halftime
Cropper loses another fumble
Fresno State gave the football right back to the Spartans with wideout Jalen Cropper losing a fumble.
San Jose State takes over at the Bulldogs’ 48-yard line.
Cropper also lost a fumble in the Bulldogs’ victories at San Diego State and against Nevada and the loss at Hawaii.
‘Dogs defense adds two
The Fresno State offense appears to have stalled, so the defense put points on the board with a safety. The Bulldogs lead is now 9-3 with 10:39 to go before halftime.
Tackle Ryan Boehm was sacking Nick Starkel in the end zone when the Spartans’ quarterback fired the ball out to the left flat when he had no receiver, resulting in an intentional grounding call and the safety.
Another three-and-out for ‘Dogs
Fresno State has had good field position since its opening touchdown, but gone three-and-out both times.
Starting from the San Jose State 44-yard line following the turnover, it lost five yards and punted.
Starting at its 42, it gained three yards and punted again.
‘Dogs can’t turn turnover into points
Fresno State had a chance to add to its lead against a defense that does not do well in sudden-change situations, but went three-and-out following a turnover gained on the Spartans’ side of the field.
The Bulldogs got the ball back when defensive end David Perales stripped the football from quarterback Nick Starkel, the fumble recovered by tackle Ryan Boehm.
Fresno State punted the ball away, with Carson King dropping it down inside the 5-yard line and it was downed at the 2 by defensive back Deonte Perry.
Over the past five games San Jose State had turned over the ball nine times and it had allowed a touchdown following seven of them, including a fumble return for a touchdown and an interception return for a touchdown. The two drives that didn’t end up in the end zone ended with missed field goals and probably should have cost the Spartans points – Utah State missed a 28-yard field goal attempt and Nevada missed one from 37 yards.
Cropper TD run has ‘Dogs on top
Fresno State answered the Spartans score with a 75-yard touchdown drive, with Jalen Cropper scoring on a 2-yard run to give the Bulldogs a 7-3 lead with 4:04 remaining in the first quarter.
Quarterback Jake Haener was 6 of 6 on the drive for 48 yards, hitting five different receivers and wideout Josh Kelly twice, Running back Ronnie Rivers also had a 19-yard run on the 10-play scoring drive.
Fresno State averaged a healthy 5.8 yards on its first-down plays on the drive and converted it only third down, a 3rd-and-4 with Haener hitting Cropper for a 7-yard gain.
Spartans score first
San Jose State converted two 3rd-and-long plays on the Bulldogs’ defense on the way to a 32-yard field goal by Matt Mercurio and a 3-0 lead with 9:52 remaining in the first quarter.
The Spartans found gaping openings in the middle of the field on those third down plays with Nick Starkel hitting Dominick Mazotti for 13 yards on a 3rd-and-10 and tight end Derrick Deese Jr for 10 yards on a 3rd-and-8.
The drive was 54 yards in 14 plays.
Kickoff = field position
San Jose State started its opening drive at the 32-yard line following a short kickoff and 29-yard return by Charlie Bostic III.
Fresno State ranks only 10th in the Mountain West in kickoff coverage, allowing opponents 22;4 yards per return.
Fresno State and San Jose State are counting down to kickoff for the first of five Thanksgiving weekend football games that will impact the division races in the Mountain West Conference.
It’s another must-win game for the Bulldogs, who gained control of their destiny in the West Division race by Tyson Maeva and beating Nevada, only to lose it when blown out by Boise State in front of the first sellout crowd at Bulldog Stadium since the 2014 home-opener. But it’s not a win and they’re in. If Fresno State can beat the Spartans, they still will need Boise State to knock off San Diego State to win the division.
Both of those will take some doing, and the front end of that equation might be the toughest. After winning 12 games in a row and 16 of 17 in the series from 1991 to 2010, Fresno State is only 4-5 against San Jose State and the Bulldogs have lost three of four on the road at CEFCU Stadium.
And, if San Diego State (10-1, 5-1) wins its game against the Broncos it’s on to the bowl game for the Bulldogs.
In the Mountain Division, Air Force will win if it beats UNLV, Boise State wins at San Diego State and Utah State wins at New Mexico, forging a three-way tie. Or, if the Falcons and the Aggies lose.
Boise State will win it if it wins at San Diego State and Air Force loses.
Utah State will win it if it wins and Boise State loses.
Here is where to tune in on TV and radio to catch the Bulldogs:
When: Thursday, 12:30 p.m.
Where: CEFCU Stadium, San Jose
TV: FS1 (Alex Faust, Petros Papadakis)
Find it fast: AT&T (Channels 652, 1652), Comcast (35, 408, 731, 1208), DirecTV (219), Dish Network (150)
Radio: Bulldog Sports Network (Paul Loeffler, Pat Hill, Cameron Worrell)
Bulldogs’ Malachi Langley at LB
Fresno State linebacker Tyson Maeva, one of the Bulldogs’ defensive leaders, will not play against the Spartans due to an injury issue that has limited his snaps the second half of the season.
He had an unspecified surgery this week, coach Kalen DeBoer said.
But Malachi Langley, the Bulldogs’ backup, isn’t in an unfamiliar role. Langley is not far behind Maeva in number of snaps played (409 to 351) and the sophomore has graded out higher against the run, tackling and overall, according to Pro Football Focus.
Langley has a 73.3 grade, Maeva a 70.9.
Tyler Mello, the Hanford High grad, will back up Langley.
A more pressing question for Fresno State will be on the line, if tackle Leonard Payne is limited or unable to go. Payne came out of the Bulldogs’ victory over New Mexico with an ankle injury and was not able to return.
It is not so much a productivity issue, but one of snaps.
Defensive tackles Evan Bennett and Ryan Boehm have averaged 16.7 and 15.9 snaps per game, and could be asked to take on a lot more against the Spartans.
MJ helmet stickers
The Bulldogs will have a sticker on the back of their helmets honoring Meredith Jenkins, the former deputy director of athletics, who passed away last week following a lengthy illness.
Jenkins was at Auburn for 24 years before moving to Fresno State in 2018 to join the staff of athletics director Terry Tumey. She was the first woman to oversee an NCAA athletics communications department and serve as the primary football contact at a Southeastern Conference school.
Trouble at tackle?
The Bulldogs have started Dontae Bull at left tackle and Alex Akingbulu at right tackle in every game this season, the only offensive line spots that have remained the same from UConn to New Mexico.
Both have been banged up and just kept going. But Dante Adkins Jr., who has been dealing with a back issue just about all year, could be ready to take on a bigger role at the left tackle spot.
Whether it’s Bull or Adkins with Akingbulu, the Bulldogs offense will have to have some success against two of the better defensive ends in the Mountain West in junior Viliami Fehoko and senior Cade Hall.
“They have two defensive ends that we have to have our eyes on at all times,” offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb said. “They are violent, excellent pass-rushers and can cause problems in the run game.
“They have a lot of experience on the back half. They also have one of the more experienced inside linebackers in the league. This is as good a test as we’ve seen when it comes to defenses.”
Fehoko is leading the Spartans with 7.0 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. Hall is third on the team with 6.0 TFLs and second with 4.0 sacks.
Bulldogs-Spartans on Thanksgiving Day
Fresno State and San Jose State will play on Thanksgiving Day for the fifth time in series history.
The Bulldogs have won three of the first four – in 1942 (6-0), 1947 (21-20 and in 1956 (30-14).
Ron vs. Ronnie
Fresno State running back Ronnie Rivers has 3,352 career rushing yards and is just 122 yards away from passing his father Ron Rivers on the Bulldogs’ career rushing yards list.
Ron Rivers is second with 3,473 yards, behind all-time leader Robbie Rouse.
The younger Rivers has played three games against the Spartans and rolled up some big numbers – 29 for 177 and one touchdown in 2019, 17 for 92 in 2018 and 19 for 105 and two touchdowns in 2017.
He has averaged 5.8 yards per carry in those games.
One difference: San Jose State is ranked fourth in the Mountain West this season in rushing defense, and it was 12th and last in 2019, 10th in 2018 and last in 2017.
Spartans vs. slot receivers
Utah State wideout Deven Thompkins and the Bulldogs’ Jalen Cropper rank No. 4 and No. 5 in the nation in targets on routes run out of the slot with 109 and 95.
Thompkins, who is second in the nation with 1,508 receiving yards and 137.1 receiving yards per game, went up against San Jose State two weeks ago in a 48-17 victory. He had five receptions for 127 yards.
Cropper gets his shot from the slot on Thursday. He had 10 or more targets in four of the Bulldogs’ first six games, but hasn’t hit double digits since he had 13 in the loss at Hawaii. He had only six targets in Fresno State’s most recent game, a 34-7 victory over New Mexico, but turned them into five receptions for 41 yards.